independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Dearbhail McDonald: Publication of the Anglo Tapes is done in the public interest

The €64bn to bail out the banks is nothing compared to the human cost.
The €64bn to bail out the banks is nothing compared to the human cost.

THERE are two questions every journalist (and their editors) must ask when they receive radical, game-changing information, the likes of which the Irish Independent laid before you in this week's Anglo Tapes.

The first is: why me?

The second is: why now?

These questions, and others, help militate against being used as a pawn as part of someone's – or some entities' – game plan or agenda.

It is by no means a failsafe process.

But once such information comes into your knowledge or possession, you must take ruthless steps to verify it and assess its value.

You must then ask whether publication is in the public interest.

We are occasionally guilty in the fourth estate of blurring the lines between what is justified in the public interest and what the public are interested in.

This is a regrettable knock-on effect, in my view, of society's tiresome obsession with celebrity and the cult of the individual.

But there is no doubt that publication of the Anglo Tapes was manifestly justified in the public interest. The task of publishing the tapes has not, however, been an easy one for the Irish Independent – editorially, legally or in terms of the further despair we knew they would inflict on our fellow citizens and the additional harm to our country's battered reputation.

But we had no other choice.

Irish society has, so far, endured five years of austerity with a degree of stoicism and a monastic-like silence that has astounded outside observers.

We have not revolted or taken to the streets.

The silentious, paralytic effects of 400,000 people being out of work; the departure of more than 300,000 (mostly young) souls who have left behind families, the debilitating scourge of one in 12 homeowners struggling to keep a roof over their heads and others battling to secure vital services cannot be underestimated.

We have remained contrite as a nation partly out of a fiscal version of Catholic guilt: falling to our knees to ask for penance from our troika saviours because of the acknowledgment that the crisis the Celtic Tiger years spawned was, in many ways, a homegrown one.

We have also displayed forbearance because we were fed, and accepted, a dominant narrative that there was no other way.

We all knew, or at least suspected, that behind the political cry of the emergency lay an ugly version of the truth of the near collapse of our economy, taking with it our dignity and sovereignty.

But the Anglo Tapes have drawn us into a room which has offered an alternative truth, one that appears more sinister than we could possibly have imagined.

Staggering as it is, the €64bn price tag for bailing out the banks is nothing compared to unquantifiable human cost of this economic catastrophe.

Now it's personal.

Yesterday, a mother with a child who has Down Syndrome broke down in tears on Joe Duffy's 'Liveline' as she revealed the daily "nightmare" of struggling to support her child and family.

Another man who is facing eviction and cannot reschedule his credit union loan to get some breathing space from his bank, spoke of the "sick feeling in his stomach" when he heard the tapes.

"How we can go back to austerity in light of this... when we have been cheated?" he asked.

The recession has denied current and future generations opportunities for comfort and a quiet prosperity that is only human nature to hope for.

We have also been denied accountability and an explanation from the bankers, the politicians and other central players, including the Central Bank and the Department of Finance.

Without that truth, it will be difficult for the public to reconcile themselves to five years or more of austerity.

Not for the first time, it has fallen to the media to provide accountability where the State will not.

In that sense, publication of the Anglo Tapes falls into the best tradition of journalism in the public interest.

Irish Independent

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